Time to fly

The smell of fresh-cut grass on a warm spring evening. You walk around the little aeroplane, checking a bolt, kicking the tires, moving the surfaces, touching it. You climb into it, and inhale that special aeroplane smell. Your hands flick over the faded dials as you go through the ritual checks. Mags on, one hand on the well-consumed shiny stick, the other with a stiff finger pressing the starter. The propeller turns a couple of times, hesitates, and then spins swiftly as the engine chortles to life.

Cub on grass runway
“The magic evaporates. Until next time.”

Throttle slightly forward, you taxi lazily to the holding point, allowing time for the small needles to line up on the little green marks. Final checks, flaps set, everything okay, your turn to line up with the long green strip.

Time to fly.

Throttle forward, you start to move. Grass blades start rushing backwards, slowly the hangar disappears from your side view and then the distant scenery starts moving. The pedals come alive under your old boots. A pair of new Nikes would be nice but they don’t make you fly better, and would mean an hour less of flying. The tail twitches, time to raise, and then, suddenly, with the merest of pressures, air under the wheels and wind on the wings.

Magic. Repeated every time.

The ground falls away, objects becoming smaller and smaller. You feel the wind caressing the ailerons as you gently move the stick. You level out, minor adjustments, eyes flirt quickly around the panel, you relax. Below the deep shadows are blurring out details. In front the sky is a special clear blue hue. In the distance the grey clouds are fringed with gold from the low sun.Happiness.

Your mind wanders back and forth, like the altitude needle not interested in settling on a precise number. You think of other flights. The ones spent sitting in a dial-filled cockpit, with black, red and blue knobs to push and pull, and the little lever that make green lights appear. Flights flown often high and fast, going places, the microphone never idle, landing at big airports, mixing with white shirts and gold stripes.

While you recapture altitude you think of the people who have been up in the air with you, their joy and delight, and the special shine in their eyes once back on the ground.

Altitude wanders again, and you think of all the flights flown on your own, the best. With the fears, the doubts, being humbled by the aeroplane when you didn’t do something right and the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when you did. The only moment when you are really your own self.

Light is fading, time to head back.

The strip is lined up in front. Throttle reduced, you can hear the wind. You concentrate. Returning to earth and conforming to the rest of the world requires attention and effort. The ground looms up, you pull, trying to stay in the air the longest possible, stretching the final moment for as long as possible… you touch, and the magic evaporates.

Until next time.

8 Comments

  • Yeah, that’s it. I would disagree with the magic evaporating on touchdown though. The taxi back is more like a savory period followed by the shutdown and few seconds of quiet elation.

    • The actual magic of flight evaporates the moment you touch the ground. The elation of having flown often lasts a couple of days and then gives way to the anticipation of the next flight.

  • There was an article about the golden age of general aviation a year back. Given the resilience of vintage tailwheel aircraft such as the Piper Cub (and variants), Luscombe, Chief/Champ, Stinson, Cessna etc – I would suggest the period 1946-1955.

    These types seem to bring the magic of flight to generation after generation, in a cheap, practical way while teaching good flying skills and airmanship. And there is a whole modern industry producing updated versions of the same!

  • For me, the magic often lasts long after touchdown. I have sat in the cockpit for many minutes after pulling the mixture, listening to the engine & exhaust stacks cool and crackle, smelling that special little-airplane aroma, reflecting on the flight… and feeling very fortunate. Tucking it back into the hangar, I linger, tidying up the safety harness, making sure everything is in place for a few days of rest, and getting a bottle of water from the fridge. I may sit in a plastic chair at the front of the hangar as the sun sets, listening to the meadowlarks and looking across the farm fields that face our row, and leave only reluctantly as chilling air and a rumbling stomach send me home for a late supper.

  • Great story! While the joy derived from flying lasts awhile, the actual magic of flying seems to evaporate when that third wheel hits the ground.

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